Not Bad For an Old Guy

St. Joseph, MN to Moorhead, MN

After 23 straight days of riding, I was beginning to think about taking a rest day. Actually, I was thinking of it more as a day off than a rest day since I really didn’t feel like I needed rest – despite pedalling more than 2,100 km. Either way, there were some logistical things I needed to look into re: the coming weeks and doing so was just unlikely to happen after a day on the road. As such, I thought I might take a day off in Fargo, ND. Fargo was about 270 km (165 miles) away, so, based on my current rate of travel, that would be three days. Or two long days. The three-day option became my plan.

As mentioned previously, the trail that led me from St. Cloud to St. Joseph continues another 175 km to Fergus Falls. In between is Alexandria (about 100 km away) which became my destination for the day. I had no arrangements for accommodation and figured it might be my first wild camping experience of the tour. I’d worry about that when the time came.

Trail to Fergus Falls

The forecast for the day included winds from the northwest (you know, the direction I’m heading) in the morning before switching around to the south later in the afternoon. Based on that forecast it was almost tempting to wait until late afternoon to leave. But I didn’t. My day’s departure actually took place at 8:20 AM – after a great breakfast and chat courtesy of Stephanie.

Despite the forecasted winds, the reality was it was essentially a no wind morning. Obviously that’s not as good as a tailwind but I was perfectly happy with that situation. Plus, much of the day’s trail ride had some form a tree coverage which blocked any wind that was trying to do its thing. Between that and the beautifully paved and mostly flat trail, the ride to Alexandria was incredibly easy – you know, for a 100 km ride. I say “mostly flat” but there was a very slight incline but for the most part it only minimally affected my pace.

First food stop of the day.
More peanut butter and jam.

About 40 km into my ride it became evident that I was going to arrive in Alexandria in good time. Likely before 1:00 PM. With nowhere specific planned for accommodation (I really didn’t like the campground options) I started to ponder continuing on to Fergus Falls. Sure, that would make for a 175 km day but I thought I could handle that – so long as I paid attention to things like eating and drinking. The last thing I wanted was a repeat of my Halifax hydration fiasco. I figured, worse case scenario I could camp anywhere along the trail if I needed to. But I really felt Fergus Falls was a reasonable goal for the day. And that’s when I started to stretch the definition of “reasonable”.

Not long after deciding to get to Fergus Falls today, another thought appeared. Could I make it to Fargo today? Immediately I thought, “Where did THAT come from?” And then my mind really started working. I started doing the math. Rate of travel. Distance remaining. Hours of sunlight. Terrain. Wind. These all needed to be considered. Fortunately, I had plenty of time to do that sort of consideration.

Lake Wobegon Trail

There were two potentially major factors in this crazy idea. The terrain and the wind. I learned that the slight incline I was experiencing on the way to Alexandria would become a slight descent not far beyond Alexandria. And then there was the forecasted winds that were supposed to switch around to the south later in the afternoon. The second factor was probably the most important but I had no way of knowing how it would play out until later in the afternoon. In my head I set a goal. If I make it to Fergus Falls by 5:00 PM I’m going for it. And so I pedalled.

Big Ole (more info in the Photo Gallery below)

I made two brief food stops on the way to Alexandria before arriving around 12:30 PM. I planned to take a longer break there to rest up before resuming my ride to Fergus Falls. That break became even longer when I came across Big Ole. A giant Viking. Of course, I had to take a photo. Or two.

By 1:30 PM I was back on the road, this time to Fergus Falls. A mere 75 km away. I could do that. Sure, I had already done 100 km but that seemed irrelevant. Clearly I could do 75 km in an afternoon. So that was my mindset. Past kilometres didn’t matter. Only the ones in front of me mattered. And so I pedalled.

Throughout that 75 km to Fergus Falls, I kept thinking about making it to Fargo. But that was ridiculous. It was silly to even consider it in the first place. But I kept doing the math. It would all come down to my average speed. Thus far on this trip, my average speed was a little over 21 km/h (13 mph). That was going to make things close. I knew sunset was at 9:11 PM. And I also knew that I would have at least a half hour after that before darkness would really start to set in. And so I pedalled.

While steep hills are great – well, when descending them anyway – there’s a LOT to be said for long, gradual descents. It does wonders for your average speed. And today my average speed needed wonders. Serious wonders. I was about 130 km into my day and my average speed was around 24 km/h. That was certainly working in my favour. Not working in my favour was the need to make a couple of stops for food but running out of energy wasn’t an option. I made sure they were quick and efficient stops. No time for dilly-dallying.

As the day progressed, it was becoming more and more likely that I would reach Fergus Falls before 5:00 PM … you know, the cutoff time as to whether I would try to make it to Fargo. And sure enough, I did. With about 15 minutes to spare. A quick check of Google Maps revealed that Fargo was now 93 km away. If I could maintain 24 km/h for four hours I could beat the sunset. Of course, that didn’t factor in stopping for food. Yes, they’d be efficient stops but they’d still be stops. And the sun doesn’t stop … okay, technically the sun doesn’t move at all but you know what I mean. Bottom line, I didn’t have time to ponder what to do. I had reached Fergus Falls by 5:00. I was committed to riding further. And so I pedalled.

I should mention that there was also a secondary goal in the mix. Although, in this case, the secondary goal would come first. Given the kilometres that were already behind me (i.e., 175 km) I was now pretty much at my longest day ever. I’d heard of people doing 200 km in a day but that just seemed excessive and unnecessary. It probably still is. But as I left Fergus Falls I was only 25 km from a 200 km day. Even if I didn’t make it to Fargo, that would be quite the day.

My first 200 km day

A funny thing happened as the afternoon wore on. The weather forecast turned out to be right. Very right. The insignificant northwest winds from the morning had indeed become stronger and had shifted south. I now had a tailwind. And I was going downhill. Not a steep descent but a descent that made pedalling almost effortless. So effortless that the average speed of 24 km/h over the first 175 was a distant memory. I was now comfortably pedalling along at close to (and sometimes over) 30 km/h. It was blissful. And about 40 minutes after leaving Fergus Falls I had officially pedalled 200 km for the day. I HAD to stop for a photo of that. Again, it was a quick stop. Yes, my progress was going well but I still had 65 km to go.

Five kilometres later, at the next town, I stopped at a gas station for another food and drink break. It was a much needed break. I was starting to fade a bit and as much as I wanted to reach Fargo, I wasn’t about to foolishly push on and power through. So this stop was a bit longer. And it made a world of difference. Yes, I still had 60 km to go but that seemed manageable. Again, it didn’t matter that I had already done 205 km. I could do 60 km in an evening. Especially when being aided by a seemingly endless descent and and a very helpful wind. The freshly paved road didn’t hurt matters either. My speed continued to be around 30 km/h (and my average speed for the day had climbed over 25 km/h). Side note: I was very much focused on reaching Fargo but I was also very much aware that I didn’t have any accommodation arranged. As such, part of my stop included a quick search of motels. I didn’t book anything but at least I had some potential destinations.

Fast-forward a couple of hours of wind-aided and descending pedalling when I was faced with the reality that I would not reach Fargo on this day. And I was more than okay with that. I COULD’VE reached Fargo today but that really would’ve only made things more complicated. Instead, I stopped in Moorhead, MN – a mere 5 km from Fargo. And, more importantly, where some motels were. Had I actually biked into Fargo I likely would’ve ended up biking back to Moorhead for lodging. Bottom line, this was a great day.

The motel I ended up at is pretty basic but, again, it has what I need. Plus they even gave me a discount after finding out how far I had just pedalled.

Not the original plan for the day but what a great day!

The remainder of the evening was spent making sure I was well nourished and hydrated – I even took some hydration salts, just in case. Yes, I travel with those now. I did some groceries (including a variety of fruit). I got some pizza (which was pretty bad compared to Gary’s). And I relaxed.

Not only had I surpassed the 200 km threshold – something I never thought I’d do … but I surpassed it by 65 km. Not bad for an old guy.

Today’s totals:
Distance: 263.65 km (by far a new personal best, previously it was 173.29 km)
Ride time: 10:21:40 (previous longest day was 8:49:26 (August 27, 2014 – the Halifax day)
Average speed: 25.44 km/h
Maximum speed: 41.24 km/h

Side note: Unrelated to the events of the day, it was 19 years ago today that Miata #2 was won. Where does the time go?

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